Macbeth directed by Joe Dowling Guthrie Theater Minneapolis, MN March 30, 2010
The Joe Dowling Macbeth at the Guthrie was crisp and clean; crisp in that they brought it off in 2 hours 10 minutes (without intermission), so Shakespeare's third shortest play moved with a concentrated intensity. I was not aware of cuts, though perhaps (wishful thinking?) Malcolm's test of Macduff may have been a bit shorter. I didn't hear a witch say "Fair is foul, and foul is fair," a crucial line for me. I was listening for it, but maybe it was swallowed up is the opening battle stage business.
It was good attending with my thirteen-year old granddaughter, Kaia, who had previously seen this production. This allowed me to see the play partly through her eyes, as she could anticipate action and flesh out her first impressions. From her previous experience she thought the witches were good. I would guess that meant they were memorably exotic (their voices may have been electronically filtered), but I better remember the acrobatic trio at the Berkeley Rep and the Polanski witches digging for corpses in the sand (backed, later, if I remember, by 75 naked crones).
This Macbeth was clean in that it did not seem to attempt any fresh vision. no chances taken, so it was finally as bland as the Dowling Hamlet that closed the old Guthrie.
The Dowling touch was violence and sex. The play opens with a long, busily choreographed battle, pre-witch. Lots of bodies (with a little audience distraction of how to get them off the stage in a thrust theatre). The uniforms do not particularly demonstrate, for an audience not quite settled in their seats, who is fighting whom, which the Scots, which the Norwegians, which Cawdor's traitors. I looked for Macbeth (Erik Heger), whom the bloody Captain will describe as heroic, but amid the smoke and business, I did not distinguish him (as he reportedly distinguishes himself). I was trying to orient myself, so the use of firearms (an AK 47 or two?) before they all got down to short swords, was irritating, compounded by the set which salted the stage with rubble -- a decaying civilization (surely not: Duncan is described as the ideal, fertile, sun-drenched king) -- with a prominent, rusted bike rim prominently in front. Whatever Dowling was attempting to do achronologically didn't reach me. But it didn't matter much because the chronology was only peripheral (not like setting the whole thing in a banana republic as one production I saw did).
The opening battle was a bookend for the finale, Macduff and Macbeth with a dozen of Macduff's troops as spectators (didn't any of them bring his AK47?), so the motif of a primitive warring tribal culture came across (Beowulf-time), yet this diminished Malcolm's "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along" resolution (V.viii. 60-75 -- I'm probably paraphrasing from memory).
The sex is not so dramatic, but Lady Macbeth (Michelle O'Neill) had five costume changes, each, except the madness nightgown. displaying her impressive superstructure. She reads Macbeth's letter recounting the projections of the witches nearly orgasmically, and when hubby comes home she strips him down to his bare pecs. That's it, but it does remind us that sex and violence underscore ambition, and I certainly prefer this to sects and violins (Amadeus?).
I sometimes find the Porter (Kris L. Nelson) a drunken bore. Not here. But I never quite got Lenox and Rosse and Menteth and Cathness and Angus straight. Were they really all dressed in business suits? The Doctor, dressed in a grey Hillary Clinton power suit, looked like she had wandered in from another play. They pronounced Seyton "see-ton" whereas Shakespeare pronounced it "say-tan," perhaps here avoiding confusing the audience. I'm almost sure Seyton was the third murderer. I've seen a production where the third murderer was Macbeth -- a stretch.
As a Scotsman, I counted how many future kings were evoked by the witches in Act IV -- eight, so Dowling got that right (there were eight Scottish kings, including five James's descended from Banquo, between Malcolm and James I, who was in the opening night audience.
Logged by, Gilbert
Photo credit: Lady Macbeth (Michelle O'Neill) encourages Macbeth (Erik Heger) after Duncan's murder. Image courtesy of the Guthrie Theater; photo by Michal Daniel.
The William Shakespeare Experience is a virtual book club, the goal of which is to read and discuss each of Shakespeare's plays in the approximate order that he wrote them. The Experience members are Mike Bazzett, Cindy Calder, Jim Darling, Gilbert Findlay, Randall Findlay, Derek Gottlieb, John U. Harkness, Stu Naber, Ernst Schoen-René, and Doug Scholz-Carlson. We are passionate about reading and seeing and hearing Shakespearean drama in all its forms, and this blog, the only one of its kind on the Internet, reflects that passion.